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From a Lawyer's View: Youth Justice by the Numbers

Updated: Jul 25, 2023


The Sentencing Project recently released a report entitled Youth Justice By the Numbers about youth arrests and incarceration numbers. The report is a great resource for defenders as it highlights the decrease in youth arrests and detention over the past 20 years. According to the report, “between 2000 and 2020, the number of youth held in juvenile justice facilities fell from 109,000 to 25,000 – a 77% decline.” This report also gives an overview of the number of youth committed for delinquency offenses. Moreover, it looks at data and trends in youth arrests since peak numbers in the late 1990s. While arrest and incarceration numbers have declined significantly overtime, this report also discusses the fact that racial disparities exist in the juvenile justice system and that these disparities persist despite these overall system reductions.


Here are some highlights from the report:

  • The number of youth held in juvenile justice facilities fell 77% between 2000-2020.

  • There has been an 80% drop in the arrest rate for youth under 18 since its peak in 1996.

  • Since 1999, there has been 80% decline in youth committed for delinquency offenses.

  • In 2020, 26% of youth sent to juvenile court upon arrest were initially detained.

  • Youth of color are more likely than white youth be held in juvenile facilities. In 2019,

    • Black youth were 4.4 times as likely to be incarcerated

    • Tribal youth were 3.2 times as likely

    • Latinx youth 27 percent more likely

  • Black youth are 2.3 times are likely to be arrested than white youth.

  • Among youth referred to juvenile court, the report shows that Black youth are 50 percent more likely to be detained.

This data in this report is useful for in and out of court advocacy. As defenders, we are currently dealing with the narrative that youth crime is increasing nationwide. These numbers suggest a different trend. Use these numbers and this report when speaking to system actors to show the state of youth arrest and incarcerations nationwide. Additionally, this report illustrates that racial disparities in the juvenile system is a nationwide issue. Use this report and its findings show system actors the impact that the system has on youth of color. For more in-depth numbers and information, please check out the report here.

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